Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, May 07, 2021

Four Wins, of Various Sizes

The below are gleaned from a recent review of my daily "wins log."

1. I got my second Pfizer/BioNTech shot about a month ago. Thank you, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci!

In the past, they focussed on developing cancer therapies, essentially by programming cells to produce therapeutic proteins. For a decade, their company had never brought a product to market. During a 2018 conference of infectious disease experts in Berlin, Prof. Sahin made a bold statement: that his company might be able to use its "messenger RNA technology" to rapidly develop a vaccine in the event of a global pandemic.
That goes for my wife, too. Despite the fact that I had signed up for two different waiting lists, the one she found got me a shot faster than I was even notified by the other two.

Image by Getúlio Moraes, via Unsplash, license.
2. Thanks to my slow, patient garage terraform, I was ready to house a golf cart that my in-laws gave us after moving nearby, recently.

The development we live in was built with golf carts in mind, and it's nice to have one. I dropped the kids off at school today with it, and I won't miss the car line, at least on days that are nice enough to use one. The fresh air was a pleasant change of pace, too.

3. Owing to the move, we got to entertain at home for the first time in ages. The menu was simple: grilled steak, some of Publix's excellent coleslaw, and potatoes baked this way. Those are always a crowd-pleaser.

4. Need to encrypt a PDF? I never actually needed to until recently, and I don't own expensive editing software. I now know of an easy way to do it. I use the second method listed. I'm a Linux guy, but I believe the software, QPDF, is multi-platform.

-- CAV

'Woke' Wars and Rejection of the Arbitrary

Thursday, May 06, 2021

I think the following paragraph -- from an account of a successful derailment of a character assassination and takeover attempt of a charity by woke "activists" -- captures the essence of the events:

Don't apologize or defend yourself against vague accusations of "harm." An apology when you've done nothing wrong is a lie. It will only further convince your accusers their delusions are reality. They don't want dialogue; they want compliance. Nor will you defeat them in logical debate: Theory rejects objective truth.
It strikes me that such events, which appear to be sprouting like weeds, are ripe opportunities for Objectivists to offer moral support and clarity regarding an epistemological issue that gives many people much more trouble than it should: Dealing with the arbitrary.

I even see some of this within the earlier parts of this account, when the author -- at unnecessary risk of granting unearned moral credibility to her opponents -- "us[ed] their woke moral code against them" during a meeting. There is no epistemological need to engage such people at all. (It can be helpful to address what they say -- for the benefit of members of the organization, but that is a different issue and should not imply any moral sanction of those individuals.)

While, yes, for legal or prudential reasons it may be wise to make sure one's employees have no actual grievances in areas the woke pretend to be concerned about, there is no need to give them the moral high ground. (It can be useful to show that they are hypocrites, but that is not the same thing.)

Regarding the arbitrary, here is part of what Rand said about it:
Somewhat ironically, any use of such an image by anyone on the left today betrays ignorance of the difference between political and economic power, psychological projection, or both. (Image by Alfred Owen Crozier, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man’s means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said.

Let me elaborate this point. An arbitrary claim has no cognitive status whatever. According to Objectivism, such a claim is not to be regarded as true or as false. If it is arbitrary, it is entitled to no epistemological assessment at all; it is simply to be dismissed as though it hadn't come up... The truth is established by reference to a body of evidence and within a context; the false is pronounced false because it contradicts the evidence. The arbitrary, however, has no relation to evidence, facts, or context. It is the human equivalent of [noises produced by] a parrot . . . sounds without any tie to reality, without content or significance. [bold added]
The only relevance of the mealy-mouthed utterances of a "social" "justice" "warrior" is that you now know you have at least one troublemaker in your organization you will need to root out -- after taking whatever precautions you may need legally and to ensure that your good employees do, in fact, feel well-treated.

I am not in management, but, while the firmness in the author's strategy is laudable, it seems that the less one engages with such people, and the more efficiently such maneuvers are dealt with, the better. Furthermore, the approach recently outlined by Basecamp, of eliminating or greatly curtailing cultural and political discussions by employees while they're on the clock might be necessary. Indeed, it could likely head off a majority of such power-grabs, which is probably why there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from such quarters.

In any event, it is encouraging to see that some businesses and organizations are developing and sharing strategies to derail these power-hungry "little dictators."

-- CAV

McWhorter on Dealing With Woke Slander

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Over at the conservative Hot Air blog is a John Sexton post discussing John McWhorter's thoughts on "Wokeism," which he is hammering out on a substack blog and will eventually transform into a book titled The Elect. (This is also the term he is using to describe the "woke," and reminds me of Thomas Sowell's analogous term, the annointed.)

The following passage also just as much reminded me of Objectivist analysis of global warming catastrophism as resembling a religion as I found it thought-provoking:

Image by Nsey Benajah, via Unsplash, license.
[T]he elect don't feel the need to make converts through persuasion. Their default is to make them through fear. Confront someone and dare them to disagree with your premise about white supremacy or any similar topic. They will either kowtow or they will dare to disagree in which case they can be denounced.

Eventually, interviewer Nick Gillespie asked McWhorter what the solution was to this. McWhorter said he was still working on that but said it basically had to come down to pushing back and refusing to take these kind of ritual denunciations seriously.

"We have to understand that you can not reason with people like this," he said. "It's very rare that you teach somebody out of their religion and this is a religion. And so to try to talk these people down doesn't work. All they know is that you're a racist and that's all you're going to get. So the idea is not to try to have a dialogue with them about these sorts of issues ... I think we simply need to start telling people like this no."

McWhorter added that it won't stop them from calling you a racist but by ignoring those attacks and going about your business you can demonstrate that "screaming that you're a racist isn't going to get them what they want." He added, "We need to start telling them no." [bold added]
I'd summarize the situation like this: The woke are like terrorists threatening to blow up livelihoods and reputations, and negotiating with them is a fool's errand. That said, I agree with Sexton here that McWhorter is on to the right approach, but that the devil will be in the details. This is a difficult problem, and I am glad to see someone like McWhorter working on a solution.

This problem is one that can be met only by confrontation, and lots of us need to be on the same page to succeed.

-- CAV

'Equity' Means Equality of Outcome. Period.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

An article at Reason nicely sums up the purpose and PR genius of the term equity. This term, at least as it is now being misused, may now be all the rage on the left, but most of us had never even heard of it a year or so ago:

Image by John Apps, via Unsplash, license.
For decades, these two divergent philosophical and public policy concepts were represented by a battle over adjectival phrases. Should we strive for equality of opportunity, or equality of outcome? Though intellectual and political enthusiasm for the outcomes-based approach did have some high-water moments in the 1970s, the long twilight struggle against 20th century totalitarianism produced a rough if sometimes reluctant governing consensus that states powerful enough to promise economic and racial parity were far more likely to produce mass immiseration. Striving for equality under the law -- removing legal discrimination by government -- was less ambitious, but more doable.

That laudable goal, particularly in the United States, is being elbowed aside. The 21st century rebranding of equality of outcome into the shinier and more malleable term equity, with its redolence of ownership and fairness, gave activists a linguistic workaround to what had previously been a public relations obstacle of utopian unattainability. You can't and probably shouldn't just wave a magic wand to erase observed inequality. But inequity? That sounds to the ear more like an immediate and surmountable wrong, deserving of intervention. [bold added]
The remainder of this long article examines a raft of bad Democrat policy in light of how well it does or does not live up to that party's own rhetoric. While such an exercise can be valuable and there is lots of information there, the above excerpt has been its most valuable service: Stating in plain English why this high-sounding weasel word has become so common.

Leftists routinely tout as new the same old, long-discredited ideas they have always had. As usual, only the packaging is new, and its primary innovation is to offer a new way to catch opponents unprepared or to put those who accept altruism by default on the spot when their proposals come up.

-- CAV

Tierney on Lockdowns and Excess Deaths

Monday, May 03, 2021

Writing at City Journal, John Tierney considers the cost of the lockdown policies adopted in response to the coronavirus in terms of excess deaths, that is, death statistics exceeding usual values. While I don't agree with every aspect of his analysis, I do agree with his concluding paragraph:

Image by Kuma Kum, via Unplash, license.
If a corporation behaved this way, continuing knowingly to sell an unproven drug or medical treatment with fatal side effects, its executives would be facing lawsuits, bankruptcy, and criminal charges. But the lockdown proponents are recklessly staying the course, still insisting that lockdowns work. The burden of proof rests with those imposing such a dangerous policy, and they haven't met it. There's still no proof that lockdowns save any lives -- let alone enough to compensate for the lives they end.
This is true. But how much more weight would such an accusation carry had the public a more common knowledge of what government is actually for, or had the author at least mentioned that these lockdowns violated our individual rights, and by depriving us of liberty, greatly reduced the quality of those lives it didn't shorten outright?

The lockdowns were not just "the single worst public health mistake in the last 100 years," they were stark evidence of just how much the West has lost its way during that same period. Few questioned the propriety of the lockdowns, and fewer still did so in terms of the proper role of our government -- be it in normal times or in those of plague.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, April 30, 2021

Four Things

1. If you aren't a member of the ASMR club, perhaps you are a member of another portion of the population with interesting sensory responses. Visually-Evoked Auditory Response (aka VEAR or visual ear) is a synesthesia-like phenomenon, with around a fifth of the population reporting such experiences: Certain kinds of animated images evoke the perception of sound. You can learn more about this and view several images that such individuals can "hear" at the UK Guardian. (These made the rounds at Twitter under the NoisyGIFs hashtag a few years ago.)

No ASMR or VEAR for me, but I do experience ocular migraines, which are like the aura, but without a headache. This video does a decent job of showing what those are like. It's an easily-managed problem, but it was scary the first time it happened.

2. "The Dreams of a Man Asleep for Three Weeks" is a fascinating account of a man's memories of being in a coma:
In video game terms, the grassy plateau was my central hub, the area I returned to between subconscious fantasies. It's where I would realize whichever dream or nightmare I'd just experienced wasn't real. It's the only place in my reverie I felt I had any sort of control, if only imagined. "Waking" from a particularly harrowing vision, like a return visit to the wasteland, I would think "Something different, please," or "Don't take me back there." Sometimes it felt as if someone was listening, taking notes and influencing where I went next.
Filed under I hope I never find out the hard way how accurate this.

3. Most space and science fiction buffs would regard Mars as a better candidate for terraforming than Venus, mainly due to the extremely harsh conditions on the latter. Many would also bring up the extremely slow rotation period as a major obstacle to terraforming Venus. But that might not be a big problem:
It has until recently been assumed that the rotation rate or day-night cycle of Venus would have to be increased for successful terraformation to be achieved. More recent research has, however, shown that the current slow rotation rate of Venus is not at all detrimental to the planet's capability to support an Earth-like climate. Rather, the slow rotation rate would, given an Earth-like atmosphere, enable the formation of thick cloud layers on the side of the planet facing the sun. This in turn would raise planetary albedo and act to cool the global temperature to Earth-like levels, despite the greater proximity to the Sun. According to calculations, maximum temperatures would be just around 35° C (95° F), given an Earth-like atmosphere. Speeding up the rotation rate would therefore be both impractical and detrimental to the terraforming effort. A terraformed Venus with the current slow rotation would result in a global climate with "day" and "night" periods each roughly 2 months (58 days) long, resembling the seasons at higher latitudes on Earth. The "day" would resemble a short summer with a warm, humid climate, a heavy overcast sky and ample rainfall. The "night" would resemble a short, very dark winter with quite cold temperature and snowfall. There would be periods with more temperate climate and clear weather at sunrise and sunset resembling a "spring" and "autumn". [footnotes omitted]
The unique problems posed by Venus also yield interesting proposals for colonization without terraforming, such as high-altitude blimps.

4. And while we're indulging in the fantasy of improving other planets, what of the other extreme? From the Mission Statement of "How to Destroy the Earth:"
For the purposes of what I hope to be a technically and scientifically accurate document, I will define our goal thus: by any means necessary, to change the Earth into something other than a planet or a dwarf planet.
The author comes up with eleven methods, which he claims could work, according to current scientific understanding, and he assigns each a 1-10 "feasibility rating."

-- CAV

To Harness the Imagination, Feed It Better.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Responding to a pair of letters from couples with marital problems, Captain Awkward comes very close to essentializing a problem-solving strategy I have seen on her blog a few times before, and it stands out to me because I have noticed that acquaintances I deem to be worry-warts frequently share two characteristics: (1) They are fixated on some real or imagined catastrophe; and (2) They are remarkably ignorant about the nature of said catastrophe and realistic options for dealing with it, or at least mitigating the damage.

The following two paragraphs fairly well encapsulate the solution:

Image by Brett Jordan, via Unsplash, license.
Envisioning and planning for the scariest realistic outcome is like clocking where the emergency exits are: You hope you'll never have to use that information, but mapping scary situations (Emergency!) to possible actions you can take (Go to the nearest emergency exit!) can help you put them in perspective and remind yourself that you have options, options that include leaving a situation that is causing you pain. Staying and working on a relationship knowing that you could survive and rebuild after a breakup is a different prospect than staying because you feel like there's no other choice.

Working through options and generating possible actions is a means of harnessing your imagination to work for you to solve problems (instead of just generating new disasters for a change), and being as specific, concrete, and real as possible has a way of clarifying what your boundaries and needs truly are. "I'll agree to almost anything to avoid being alone even if I know it would be bad for me, but I won't pretend to like it" is a bad negotiating position, and compromises forged in fear, willful avoidance, resentment, and desperation rarely hold. At minimum, an honest reckoning with your options -- including the shitty ones -- can save you from expending energy pretending to consider compromises that you already know won't serve and then causing even more pain and disruption when one or both of you inevitably goes back on promises you made under duress. [link and emphasis in original]
The mapping out of options is very concrete, as the reader can tell from the rest of the post. The take-home, though, is that doing this kind of homework turns the imagination into an ally, rather than a further source of stress.

A brief observation...

This advice has ramifications far beyond relationship problems, or even personal problems: It is directly related to the sad state of our politics and culture, and reminds me a bit of the book Fake Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom, which Alex Epstein recently discussed with its author, Patrick Moore.

That conversation had already left me impressed with the way the egalitarian media-cultural establishment has basically found a way to push dogma absent a "god of the gaps:" Make new gaps, and hide them behind the curtains of "science."

But the post I discussed above helps me see another aspect of the problem: The "if it bleeds it leads" school of journalism and social media algorithms work hand-in-hand to fixate the more mentally passive members of the public on unfounded dire predictions, having to take the word (accurately framed and relayed or not) of experts.

At the same time, "journalists" and power-lusting politicians will happily spoonfeed them wildly impractical "solutions" based tenuously on only a small subset of the relevant facts. This leads directly to the kinds of stress seen in that post: Large numbers of people are convinced we are headed for an unverified worst-case scenario and see neither alternate scenarios nor truly viable options. There is even a name for this: eco-anxiety.

Many people do not have the scientific training to determine the validity of the doomsday scenarios that crowd our media, nor the time to carefully consider the "solutions" being proposed as legislation at breakneck speed.

This is, of course, the kind of problem that demands a response from intellectuals who can make the relevant issues and options understandable to laymen. Regarding the green anti-energy agenda, Epstein and Moore are two of them, and Epstein has been interviewing others lately.

Anyone wanting to combat the green agenda or help others get past eco-anxiety would do well to look at Epstein's Power Hour podcast: He has been interviewing quite a few such intellectuals lately, and several have made the kinds of arguments we will need to defend ourselves from those who would have us panic, as one catastrophist famously put it, to the revealing approval of others in her camp.

-- CAV